Sunday, September 2, 2012

On Top of Tennessee

Clingman’s Dome at 6,643 feet, is the highest point in Tennessee.  It is only a few inches shorter than North Carolina’s Mount Mitchell (6,684 ft) which is the highest point east of the Mississippi River.  As you might imagine, there are some spectacular views from the top of Clingman’s Dome, but those views are hard to catch.  We’ve been waiting all summer for a good view day.

With temperatures once again near 90 degrees, we decided to head for the top for our hike on Monday.  We had a great weather forecast of clear skies all day, so we were hoping for that illusive view.

We arrived in the large Clingman’s Dome parking lot about 9:30.  The busy tourist season is waning and there were very few cars in the lot.  Garnett was hiking with us again and we had worked out a plan whereby the three of us would hike from Clingman’s Dome northbound on the Appalachian Trail to Sugarland Mountain Trail.  At that point, Gene would hike back to Clingman’s Dome and Garnett and I would continue north to Newfound Gap Road where Gene would pick us up.

Of course, the parking lot is not at the top of Clingman’s Dome.  There is a half mile paved trail which leads to the top and the observation tower.  Even though this is a short distance, this half mile is always difficult for me.  Maybe it’s because we just get out of the car and start uphill.  It’s a pretty steep climb, too, gaining 300 feet from the parking lot to the observation tower.

We had great views when we got out of the car, but by the time we climbed to the top of the observation tower, the clouds had moved in.  Still, not bad though.

From the tower, we headed north on the AT.  Naturally, since Clingman’s Dome is the highest point in the state, we started out going downhill.  Basically, the AT follows the ridge line through the Smokies and generally straddles the North Carolina-Tennessee border.  This section of trail is in the high elevation spruce-fir forest which I love.

This is a well maintained trail, but it’s not the easiest walk in the park.  This section is steep in spots, very rocky with lots of roots and a few wet spots.  It’s not all downhill, either.  First comes Mount Love which is hardly noticable.  Actually, its a welcome relief to the steep descent.  Then comes Mt Collins where we gained about 500 feet before dropping back down to the gap. All that being said it is still one of our favorite hikes in the Smokies.

We were in high spirits, but hungry as we came to the junction with Sugarland Mountain Trail.  This was the turn-around point of our hike and a good spot for lunch.  I’d been thinking about that climb back up Mt Collins and then up to Clingmans Dome.  It seemed like a good idea for Garnett and I to continue north (generally downhill) to Newfound Gap and let Gene do the climbing back up to the top, retrieve the car, and pick us girls up down the hill.  The milage was about the same--Gene had 4 miles back to the car and Garnett and I had 4.5 miles to the Gap.  Everyone was agreeable to that, even Gene.

Garnett and I had a great hike down to Newfound Gap even though there were a few short uphill sections.  Our walk continued through the spruce-fir forest.  We took one break at Indian Gap.  The Trail comes out to a large parking lot on Clingmans Dome Road at this point and we found a grass spot to rest at the edge of the curb.  From here, we had only 1.7 easy miles to go.  At the Gap we again threw our packs down and stretched out on a grassy spot to wait for Gene.

It turned out to be a great hike with the last half being new trail for Garnett.  Glad we were able to help her color some map.

That’s it for today.  Thanks for tagging along.


  1. I remember that climb to the observation tower ... Not fondly.

  2. That sure is an impressive looking Observation Tower - must have been a bit of a challenge getting all that concrete up their.

    Nice photos from the top of Clingman's Dome. I think I'd have opted for the downhill route too!